Reviews

Dead Space 2 PS3

Polished sequel to cult sci-fi shooter deserves new disciples

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Alongside this, the new necromorphs play on your habits. The lovely Puker doesn't do much damage, but its goo slows Isaac down - and in Dead Space, if you get surrounded, you're dead meat. A hint of their distinctive retching and you're scanning in a panic, desperately trying to maintain mobility.

Other times you're locked in a packing-crate maze with velociraptor necros straight from the Jurassic Park school of behaviour (so much so the Trophy is called 'Clever Girls'), watching for the tell-tale bulge of a nose from a crate's side, when suddenly there are bellows in both ears as its companions charge.

ATMOSFEAR
The single-player campaign follows Isaac from the moment he wakes in a straitjacket, through fifteen chapters - and, though it doesn't have the shock of the new anymore, it at least has the decency to bring the house down with epic spectacles along the way.

Dead Space's world is industrial science fiction, a universe where space has been conquered through the ideas of engineers and exploited by the greed of corporations; its environments reflect this. The huge clanking gears, whirring turbines, and slamming pistons take centre-stage for some of the best-looking set-pieces, but the rest of the time the dull hum of machinery is the backdrop.

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A big part of the ambience are the hisses of steam and dull bangs of industry, which are no presage but still make you jump twenty feet. On that note, a word for the audio design. The Dolby surround effects do more than anything to foster paranoia - as Isaac moves through the station, skittering noises seem to follow him, stopping when he does. Weird groans ring out from rooms that you know are empty.

Someone on the periphery of your hearing keeps muttering "Isaac... Isaac..." It's freaky stuff, but the genius touch is how it alternates between set-ups and fake-outs: at times you're utterly convinced Isaac is surrounded, they're all just waiting to burst out, and your hands are clenching the pad so hard they're white. That's when the sprinkler system comes on.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE
This surround design and industrial chic owes a lot to the original Dead Space, but the sequel goes other places too. Most memorable is a children's centre with rubix cube patterns on the walls: the former inhabitants turned into wide-eyed Gollums with vicious claws, the babies little more than heads dragging pouches of pus.

Isaac Clarke doesn't have much of a character, but he does have defining characteristics: first among them is guilt over the death of his girlfriend. These locations are the closest DS2 gets to the Silent Hill territory it so admires, where the world itself is torment.

Other sections put you inside the machine, guiding Isaac through the guts of huge factories or outside the station in one of gaming's greatest visual representations of space. Tiptoeing through the headquarters of a cult, you're ambushed by its former priests, their tendrils splitting through their robes' embroidery. Caught on a fully-lit stage facing a darkened audience. Cornered by EarthGov agents with a switch that'll... (we won't spoil).

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There are less successful experiments. A rogue computer called Anti is barely explained, and doesn't seem all that threatening, before you're ripping out her mainframe. Gaming isn't short of loopy AIs out to gitcha, and this is a poor addition to the pile.

The story is no great shakes, bopping around from bit-part character to Isaac and, if anything, light on detail. Often you'll realise what's happening only retrospectively. But for its part it propels Isaac from scenario to scenario quickly and with an absolute minimum of downtime.

There are other grumbles: adding a low level of sound to the vacuum sections removes a truly creepy and singular aspect of the original (where they were silent) for no good reason - though it is more of a pleasure controlling Isaac in the absence of gravity this time around.

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